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Comfort House to remain open

Feb. 25, 2014 @ 11:54 PM

HUNTINGTON -- The Jeffrey George Comfort House will remain open after an anonymous local donor offered to assume its $545,000 mortgage, said Jo Fannin, executive director.

The board of directors met Tuesday evening with the donor and his attorney and voted in favor of accepting his offer.

"The gentleman, who wants to remain anonymous, told the bank he would assume the loan himself, and the house would pay it back as it could," Fannin said. "He said he had total faith in the folks running the house, and his only desire and goal was to have the good the house has done in 14 years to continue."

The house, located behind St. Mary's Medical Center in Huntington, provides temporary lodging for families of adult patients recovering from serious illnesses or injuries at several of the region's hospitals including St. Mary's as well as Cabell Huntington Hospital, Cornerstone Hospital, HealthSouth, River Park Hospital, Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital and the Veterans Administration. It was named after one of its founders, Dr. Jeffrey George, a local cardiologist who died in a car crash in December 2008.

Since it first opened in February 2000, the Comfort House has provided temporary lodging for 25,000 guests who have lived farther than 50 miles from the Huntington area.

It has had the capacity to house 12 families at any one time in a comfortable, family-style atmosphere.

It operates on an approximate annual budget of $250,000 and is staffed by volunteers. Donations and a $50,000 grant from the state has helped cover operational expenses over the years, such as the mortgage, insurance and utilities.

On Feb. 15, at its annual fundraising dinner, Dr. Grant Shy, board chairman, announced the house would not be able to accept any new patients after March 1.

He said then that the bank holding the mortgage on the house's 25-year loan was calling it in after 12 years of timely payments and great credit rating.

The news stunned many, Fannin said, and resulted in an outpouring of support.

Fannin said the donor, who is from Cabell County, immediately reached out to her after reading in the Herald-Dispatch about the Comfort House closing.

"He's knowledgeable of a lot of people involved in the Comfort House," she said. "He was not close friends with Jeff George, but he said he knew if he ever got in trouble and needed him, Jeff would be there."

Sen. Joe Manchin also got involved, sending a representative from his office to the meeting on Tuesday.

"We were thrilled and delighted when Sen. Manchin's staff called to express his appreciation and support for the house," Fannin said. "He got involved with the house in 2007 before Dr. George died. He knew firsthand what it meant to him."

"We've also gotten letters and emails from the VA, distressed about what would happen to their veterans who stay here," she added. "We had a woman walk into the house and give us $1,000 and challenged others to step up to the plate."

Fannin said they are overwhelmingly thankful that the community has stepped forward.

"It re-enforces what we already knew about the culture of the people here," she said. "When Dr. George dedicated this house, he said he was giving it back to the community and we need people to continue helping us and supporting us."

Fannin said they have started a campaign to allow donors to give $100 a month for five years or they can give a one-time gift of any amount. More information can be obtained by calling the house at 304-525-6705.

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